Where is Mr. Bear? The Goodbye/Hello Project
The Mr. Bear Project is historically one of the all-time favorite projects at OFS. Perhaps this is because it so encapsulates the heart of our philosophy- the power and centrality of relationships for young children. We believe that children who experience emotional relationships in the first three years of life, not only help to color their future relationships, but also help determine how their brains process information. Therefore, a young child’s relationships with their caregivers-parents and teachers are sacred at Old Firehouse School. According to the famous child psychiatrist, John Bowlby, these primary relationships, or attachment relationships, impact ones' entire adult life in a myriad of ways.
Lacking a mature understanding of both the past or future, children less than two years of age experience separation as genuine loss, i.e. when mom is gone, this translates to them, that she’s gone forever. Two’s are just at the cusp of understanding these rudimentary time concepts.
Therefore, they are ripe for the exploration of separation and reunion in time that this project explores.
In the Mr. Bear Project, we use the loss and reunion of a stuffed animal, “Mr. Bear", to explore the themes of separation, loss, and reunion for our two-year-olds from the Dragon Room. Mr. Bear leaves, but then returns, just as Mommy and Daddy do, every day.
This project is also is a good example of the importance we place on memory development. Throughout this project, the teachers use photography, videography, and pretend interactions with stuffed animals to help children store, organize, and retrieve memories of both Mr. Bear and their parents.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
"We are molded and re-molded by those who have loved us.
Though the love may pass, its impression remains upon us forever."
Separation anxiety is a common experience that connects all of human kind. Yet, Einstein was right, time is relative. What may seem a brief separation for a parent, can feel like an eternity for a young child. In order to withstand long separations, children must begin to build a mental image of their parents or primary caregivers that they “carry” with them while they are separated. Struggling to sustain this image is what makes separation difficult.
Parents are not immune to these feelings of separation anxiety. At OFS, we recognize and honor that these feelings as important processes for both the child and parents. We acknowledge the feelings of loss when Mom or Dad leave, and wee work together with the parents to help both the child and parent successfully cope with Hellos and Goodbyes.
We believe that the way we help children separate and the way we help them feel connected to people who care about them both at home and at school has powerful ramifications for children’s long term sense of security. At OFS we recognize and honor that our children’s primary relationships are with their parents. However, we also acknowledge the teacher-child relationship as of key importance to the children. After all, they are with us for eight to 10 1/2 hours a day.
Separations & Reunion
Children form different types of attachments with different people. In terms of the daily separation process we see ourselves as comforters, stimulators of memory, and as secure bases for the children.
Teacher as Secure Base
In order for young children to be able to explore and take risks while in the school environment, they need to know that there is someone available to support and help them. This is our role.
Teacher as Memory
We remind the children that “Mommy or Daddy will pick you up at 5:30.” We also remind them what the day holds for them: friends and play.
Teacher as Comforter
We acknowledge the feelings of loss when Mom or Dad leave and we try to give them the gentle reassurance that they are in a place where they are loved.
Where is Mr. Bear?
The daily routine of the two-year-olds include a morning walk in our firehouse cart. No matter which route we would take on our walks, it always started with a visit to the seniors’ home and to our special tree to say “Hello” to our friend Mr. Bear--a little Bear that “lived” in a hole in the tree. Although a simple stuffed teddy bear, the children’s hearts are captured by him.
One day, to our surprise, Mr. Bear was not in his home. “He’s gone!” the children cried.
The children searched for him every day, to no avail. Acknowledging the children’s deep concern and curiosity for our missing bear, we decided to launch the project Where is Mr. Bear?--an exploration of separation and reunion.
Teacher: Where do you think Mr. Bear is?
Child 1: Um, Mr. Bear is sleeping.
Child 2: He went to a small tree.
Child 3: He’s gone.
Child 4: Mr. Bear went away.
Child 5: Wow, where did he go?
Child 6: Maybe he will need a band-aid.
Child 7: Yeh, he fell out of the hole over there.
Child 8: We still need a tub for him. He’ll need a bath when we find him.
Child 9: Okay, we’ll clean him up.
Asking Questions/ Generating Solutions
As a group, the children began forming hypotheses on Mr. Bear’s whereabouts and solutions on how we might find him. We decided to write a letter and to give it to others to help us find Mr. Bear.
The children described Mr. Bear, recalling details by creating a mental image of him in their mind. They remembered the color of Mr. Bear’s eyes and nose. They recalled that he did not have any shoes on or a hat. But he did have a red bow tie. We placed this letter in his hole in the tree, hoping one of this friends might find it and contact us with information.
Here the children are discovering that their words can be translated into squiggled lines that other people can read. Their words have power this way. Theorists call this dawning knowledge part of “emergent literacy.”
Part of OFS project approach involves helping children learn to research and use available resources. After several conversations about who we should turn to when we are lost or need help, the children suggested we ask a policeman to help us find Mr. Bear.
Lt. Breshears was both a member of the Oakland SWAT Team and an OFS parent. He kindly agreed to come talk to the children about how to go about looking for a missing friend. The children were in awe as Lt. Breshears gave us some search tips.
First, he suggested we contact any known friends of Mr. Bear’s and ask what they knew. Next, he proposed we have a sketch artist (Teacher Susan) draw a picture of Mr. Bear by using the memories we had of him. The children recalled how many eyes, ears, and noses he had, and of course his red ribbon. The children then had a “missing bear poster” to show to people on their walk.
Postcards from Mr. Bear
One day on our walk we found a post card from Mr. Bear in the tree. The children were thrilled at this evidence that Mr. Bear still existed and was safe and sound. Mr. Bear wrote that he was gone on vacation, but promised 'to be back.' Meanwhile while on vacation, Mr. Bear. Meanwhile while on vacation, Mr. Bear promised to send postcards to us.
Being on vacation with one’s family was a common experience among our two and three-year-olds. Their parents shared postcards with us of past family vacation spots. These postcards were used as those postcards 'sent' by Mr. Bear. When the postcards arrived, the children often recognized the scene depicted and guessed where Mr. Bear was, giving way to what he might be experiencing. The postcards also reminded the children of their own vacations and thus inspired much conversation.
One day, Queen and Bride Bear, two friends of Mr. Bear’s, dropped into the class-room asking if we knew anything about Mr. Bear’s whereabouts. Queen Bear was a lavishly dressed “royal” teddy bear, Bride Bear was Mr. Bear’s fiancée. For several months, both Queen and Bride Bear dropped by to share information about Mr. Bear. Visits by Bride and Queen stimulated much conversation and remembering as the children sought to explain the latest news to Mr. Bear’s friends.
Bride Bear: Have you heard from Mr. Bear?
• That’s Mr. Bear.
• He’s in the water.
• See! See!
• He is in Hawaii.
Bears and Play
Planning activities for children two and three-year-olds mean including opportunities to interact with objects: being able to touch, move, and manipulate them. With an emergent curriculum we plan activities to involve such tools; however, we develop the activities and objects to revolve around the project and themes.
With our Mr. Bear project, we introduced activities with our 'little bears': bear shaped pieces of felt which adorned a photo of a Dragon Room kid. The children used these during a variety of play activities. One particular play situation included transporting the little bears across the room in a toy bus to “go to work” and then back “to Old Firehouse School.”
With our bear project, the bear costume that had earlier seemed to have found a semi-permanent place on the bottom of our dress-up basket, was revived, becoming a popular dress-up piece. The children were interested in looking at themselves in costume--noticing changes in their image. Others took risks, taking on more assertive roles during play while using the costume. However, as Jared reminded his friends, “Don’t worry, I’m not a scary bear.”
The children’s interest in the story, 'Going on a Bear Hunt', provided an opportunity to include motor activity. We decided we'd go on a bear hunt in our room. We hid a favorite teddy bear, Curly bear, and the children used flashlights to look for him. Each attempt proved more challenging as the location of Curly became more and more difficult to find.
With exposure to writing and reading, children begin to realize the power of the written word. They notice that text conveys messages and thoughts, which in turn, possess meaning. Throughout the project, we provided the children with opportunities to “write” and draw pictures for Mr. Bear, listen to nonfiction books about bears and separation and reunion, and of course, shared favorite stories that they enjoyed with each other.
Hello: Celebrating Reunion
Mr. Bear’s final postcard with the announcement of his return to Lafayette sparked an air of excitement. The children wanted to celebrate his return with a “Bear Party.” The whole school became involved in the planning process. For the Dragon Room, part of the planning for the celebration included making special crowns exclusively for the event. Meanwhile, the Big Room Kids decided to put on a play, “The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears” in honor of Mr. Bear’s return.
The children watched as the Dragon Room’s older peers presented the story. At the end of the story, Goldilocks jumps out of the little bear’s bed and runs away from the bears, leaving behind her own stuffed teddy. Upon watching this scene, a child yelled out, “Hey that’s Mr. Bear!” pointing to the stuffed teddy bear left in the bed. Our friend Mr. Bear had returned!
It was quite a surprise for the children. The children gave him a cheer, and as Dorothy passed him around, each child gave Mr. Bear a welcome back kiss.
In addition to the play, our celebration included the showing of our “Mommy and Daddy Comes Back” video. Throughout the weeks before the party, the children viewed videos of their parents expressing how much they missed their child and reminding them that Mommy/Daddy will be picking you up this afternoon… I love you.”
The children were able to see where their parents worked and to hear their comforting words while there. During this time, we videotaped the children’s responses. With both parent and child videos, we put together a culminating video which also included them singing our favorite song, “ My Mommy and Daddy Comes Back.” In honor of our friend, we also decided to add Mr. Bear to our song and sing “Mr. Bear comes Back.”
Lyrics to “Mommy and Daddy Comes Back”
Sometimes my mommy/daddy takes me over
To another friend’s house to play
Sometimes I only stay a little while,
Sometimes I stay all day.
Sometimes I worry when they leave me,
I hope they won’t be too long.
But when I’m playing with a friend and having fun,
I forget that they’re gone.
Sometimes I visit with my grandma
when mommy/daddy goes somewhere.
We bake some cookies and we read a book,
rocking in a rocking chair.
But my mommy/daddy comes back,
They always come back,
They always come back to get me.
My mommy/daddy always comes back,
They always come back.
They never will forget me.
Grace Angel & Paula Bryson